298. Letter From the Ambassador in Costa Rica (Willauer) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom)1

Dear Dick: Thank you for your letter of April 24th in reply to mine of April 16th2 in which I discussed the problem as to whether there is Communist domination in Cuba of a kind which would require invocation of the Caracas Resolution.3 Your letter is most interesting and particularly so in the light of events in Panama since it was written.

Much of the basis of your feeling that action under the Caracas Resolution should not be considered at this time seems to stem from the statements of Fidel and Raul Castro that the Cuban Government would not permit the organization of expeditions to invade other countries, especially since “they have backed up these words by breaking up a Nicaraguan revolutionary group and stopped another group headed for Haiti”. If the official statements of the Government of Panama and the reports in the press are to be given credence it now appears that despite these assurances the present attacking forces in Panama originated in Cuba. Unless there is some excellent explanation [Page 493] to the contrary I find it difficult to believe that this could have happened without the connivance, to say the very least, of high officials in the Cuban Government, particularly in the army. This conclusion seems even more plausible in view of the fact that it is known that the army is riddled with Communists and that it is generally believed that “Che” Guevara, among others, holds a very strong position of control. I am only reflecting the worries of such experienced observers of Communist tactics as Serafino Romualdi, with whom I conversed yesterday, when I point this out to you. It seems to Mr. Romualdi and to me, admittedly viewing the matter from a distance, that the Castro visit to the United States was very probably one of the most blatant soft-soap jobs in recent Communist history. (I gather from your own letter and from a communication from Allan Stewart4 that the Department is still preserving a certain amount of skepticism about Castro.) I wish to add that in my talk with Romualdi yesterday he feels that the United States is in extreme danger of “adopting appeasement methods in Cuba and that we should politely but firmly refuse anything by way of assistance to Cuba until action has been taken to clean out Communist elements in key power spots”. So far as I myself am concerned I will begin to believe some of the statements that Fidel Castro has made that neither he nor his movement are Communist when, and only when “Che” Guevara and the other top Communists are given a one way ticket out of the country.

Assuming, as I do, that the Department has kept us informed of all pertinent information about the attack on Panama, it is practically impossible to believe that any one would have started it, and that Cuban army personnel could be involved except under one theory, i.e., that the Cuban part of the affair is Communist. I say this because all concerned in the attack must have realized that it was inconceivable that the United States would tolerate a direct threat to the Panama Canal and, as has proved to be the case, equally inconceivable that the Organization of American States would sit by quietly in such a situation. Therefore, from the point of view of those leading the invasion it would seem that they should have known better than to even undertake it. Viewed, however, from the point of view of the Communists, the attack on Panama makes great sense. In this connection I recall the remark of Pepe Figueres, reported to you in my cable No. 387 of April 7, 19595 to the effect that he felt that Communist strategy in Cuba might well prove to be aimed towards creating a situation so intolerable to the United States that we would have to intervene and thus set the stage for a Western Hemisphere “Hungary in Reverse”. In this connection I feel that all of us can be quite sure that in view of this [Page 494] attack on Panama our military will be urging strongly in high level deliberations the inadvisability of tolerating the current situation in Cuba any longer.

Additionally, there is the obvious advantage to the Communists of keeping up the ferment in the Caribbean, particularly at a time of crisis in Europe and other parts of the world.

In short, while you state in your letter that “considerable progress is being made in calming down this phase of Caribbean tensions” I unfortunately find myself in complete disagreement. I feel that the situation in the Caribbean today is worse than it ever has been and that it is going to get much worse very rapidly unless the Communist beachhead in Cuba is liquidated. This has been my consistent position for a long time now and I am sorry that I find it difficult to feel otherwise.

I was extremely interested in the statements in the second paragraph of the first page of your letter discussing the possibility of using the Caracas Resolution against Cuban Communism, that “even in the earlier case of Guatemala it was felt that to prove that such a situation existed as the basis for international intervention would be extremely difficult” and “the present situation in the Caribbean gives far less of a justification for invoking this clause”. Since the Guatemalan situation arose when you were not in the Department and since I was intimately involved in this whole problem both in the field and in constant and frequent consultations on the highest levels in Washington, I think my comments would be helpful. Your predecessor, Henry Holland, in a meeting involving most of the top interested people in the government and chaired by Bedell Smith,6 took the firm position that the Caracas Resolution had been tailor made by Secretary Dulles and himself to suit the Guatemalan situation. He went on to say that if arrangements could be made to stop the impending Castillo Armas revolution he was confident that Communism could be uprooted from Guatemala by a Meeting of Consultation under the Resolution. He was so persuasive in his arguments in certain quarters that twice steps to prevent the revolution were taken and as a result it got postponed so long that it very nearly failed. In view of the fact that Henry Holland’s views were ultimately overruled you are perhaps literally correct in your statement that you made about the feeling as to whether the proper basis for using the Resolution existed in the Guatemalan case. Actually I can assure you that the reason that Holland was overruled was not because there was any fear that ultimately a sound case proving international Communism in control of Guatemala could not be made. The Guatemala decision was based upon two other factors: 1) that the procedure would take too long, during which time irreparable damage [Page 495] might be done by Guatemalan based Communists in the rest of the Caribbean, and 2) doubt as to the effectiveness of the action which the OAS might take, even though they found that Communism was in control of Guatemala.

As to your statement that there is less justification for the Caracas Resolution now than in the Guatemalan situation, here again I find myself in complete disagreement. Strategically Cuba is obviously much more important than Guatemala, sitting as it does astride the sea lanes from our own Southwest [Southeast] and of all Latin America. Secondly the question of whether the degree of domination of the political institutions of Cuba is greater or less awaits the official intelligence appraisal I advocated in my letter of April 16th. However, several excellent observers such as Romualdi, Figueres and Betancourt seem to think there is a thorough Communist grip there in most of the vital areas and much of our own intelligence bears this out. Finally, and this seems to be the guts of the situation, it is generally agreed that the Communists have a very strong position of command and control in the army. This they never achieved in any effective manner in the Guatemalan situation. Indeed, as I pointed out in my letter, to the extent the Communists control the Cuban army, they control the “political institutions” of Cuba. It was probably in large measure due to the stabilizing force of the military in Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia that the Communists did not emerge further. This certainly was true in Honduras during the upsets I witnessed in my four years as Ambassador there.7

You also discuss in your letter my recommendation that the Intelligence community be asked for an “official evaluation of the degree of control of the political institutions of Cuba by international Communism”. Naturally, as you state, you are keeping very closely in touch with all sources of intelligence with a view to evaluating exactly what the influence of Communism is upon the present Cuban Government. This is not what I meant by my suggestion. It is one thing to keep watching intelligence material as it comes across one’s desk. It is an entirely different thing to pose a specific question, such as the one I have suggested, to the Intelligence community, and ask them to come up with an answer. For instance, if Allen Dulles were required to answer “to what extent is the Cuban army dominated by Communism” he would have to reply either that it was wholly so, “X” percent so, not so, or that he did not know. I think in this situation we need hard and realistic answers such as the one I am suggesting we get.

I wish to refer again to my ideas about invoking the Caracas Resolution. For years now I have been suggesting that we have permitted the Caracas Resolution to be a dead letter. The only action that [Page 496] I know that has ever been taken under the Caracas Resolution is to establish liaision offices to exchange information—a process which was already going on less formally. Perhaps other action has been taken in areas of Latin America with which I am unfamiliar but certainly nothing has happened in Central America. In this connection I have advocated that attempts should be made to persuade our neighbors to pass legislation requiring that Communists and any other persons receiving assistance from abroad register this fact and the details of such assistance. This, as I pointed out to you in my letter of June 3, 19588 would, in my opinion, be the basis thereafter for sound and documented publicity of the Communist intervention in local affairs. I also suggested while I was in Honduras, in commenting upon a draft OCB directive, that it should be a part of our policy and known to be such, that the degree of our aid to any country would be weighed in accordance with its attitude and actions concerning the Communist international conspiracy. I know that there is a considerable body of thought that feels that there should be no strings attached to aid. Personally I find myself in total disagreement with this philosophy so far as this area is concerned.

In conclusion I reiterate my view that the concrete foundation for a possible ultimate submission of the threat of Communism in Cuba and the Caribbean to the OAS should now be laid by asking the Intelligence community to answer the specific question above quoted. Assuming that the answer indicates a high degree of control by Communism in Cuba I then submit that it would be a very healthy thing to put the matter before the OAS to accomplish two objectives:

To give due publicity to the facts through an appropriate Inter-American forum.
To make each country stand up and be officially counted on its attitude towards international Communism.

In support of this view I submit that we have been avoiding a showdown with our neighbors too long. I know that many feel that such a showdown would lose us friends but I feel that the opposite result would follow. I assure you that I have the greatest respect for your own firmness on Communist matters, but I am constantly worried by remarks and attitudes of others who seem at the very least to have succumbed to a sense of defeatism. All too often I hear it said, “Latin Americans think of Communism only as another political party” or “The Latin American leaders, as politicians, have to accept support wherever they can” or “such and such a leader is not a Communist because he accepts Communist support and he will get rid [Page 497] of the Communists later on”. It is true that there are many Latins who speak and feel this way. But I refuse to believe that they are in the majority, in the sense of the amount of control they exercise.

This much is certain—that what I am suggesting is pretty tough medicine and it may very well have far reaching repercussions in Latin American relations. However, it is equally certain that Communism has gained rapidly in Latin America in the last five years and every indication favors greater gains. I submit that we can no longer put aside a headlong attack on this problem in the hope that by avoiding it we will somehow or other save ourselves from the risk of disputes with our neighbors and thus, somehow or other, increase the strength of the hemisphere. We must either, as the admitted leaders of the hemisphere, come openly to grips with the international Communist conspiracy, or run serious risks that Latin America will at the very least be neutralized as a source of strength to us. Looked at another way, I fear the situation as to Communism in the Caribbean (at least) will deteriorate so badly if we do not do something drastic soon, that we will later be forced to directly intervene for our own self preservation.9

Sincerely yours,

Whiting Willauer
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 737.001/4–3059. Secret. Willauer also sent copies to Herter, Loy Henderson, Dreier, Stewart, and Wieland.
  2. Neither letter has been found.
  3. The “Declaration of Solidarity for the Preservation of the Political Integrity of the American States Against International Communist Intervention,” adopted at the Tenth Inter-American Conference, Caracas, March 28, 1954. (American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1950–1955, vol. I, pp. 1300–1302)
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 713.00/4–759)
  6. Records of meetings in Washington beginning in May 1954 are printed in Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. IV, pp. 1102 ff. There is no indication, however, that Under Secretary of State Bedell Smith took part in the meetings.
  7. Willauer served as Ambassador in Honduras from February 1954 to March 1958.
  8. Not found.
  9. In an attached note dated July 14, Frank Devine told Hill that it was his understanding that because of the elapsed time, the various letters that Dreier had prepared on this subject, and the fact that Willauer had recently returned to the United States, no reply was needed or intended to Willauer’s letter.